Is Intelligent Debate Breaking Out in the Amazon Hachette Media Circus?
As an inveterate media watcher, I have long become accustomed to the fact that – in the book industry echo chamber – the most strident voices talking about this story are generally lined up against Amazon.
Happily, the same cannot be said for the rest of the media. Will O’Neil, author and guest blogger here on The Digital Reader, has been tracking the fallout of a piece which was published in The New Republic late last week. He’s found three columns which call into question the arguments which Franklin Foer made in his piece in TNR, and I’d like to share them with you (along with Barry Eisler, making 4 pieces).
Now, I had read Foer’s piece last week but ignored it (I prefer jokes which are actually funny). This, for example, sets the tone:
Shopping on Amazon has so ingrained itself in modern American life that it has become something close to our unthinking habit, and the company has achieved a level of dominance that merits the application of a very old label: monopoly.
That term doesn’t get tossed around much these days, but it should. Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart.
Barry Eisler, on the other hand, responded with a thorough fisking of that premise:
Holy shit, “Amazon is a monopoly” doesn’t get tossed around much these days?! Did Foer even read the George Packer piece he cites in his own article, in which Packer repeatedly plays the “Amazon is a monopoly!” fear card? Has he ever heard of the “Authors Guild” or “Authors United,” each of which has repeatedly, explicitly, accused Amazon of being a monopoly? Has he read David Streitfeld in the New York Times, or Laura Miller in Salon? I’ve seen countless posts with titles like, Amazon: Malignant Monopoly or Just Plain Evil? I’ve seen op-eds in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, all peddling the same tired, tendentious fear-mongering line about Amazon being a monopoly. Seriously, just Google “Amazon Hachette Monopoly” and see what you come up with.
He goes on from there to vivisect Foer’s piece and leave the carcass twitching on the ground. It’s a fun read, but Eisler’s not the only one to turn his attention on Foer’s arguments.
You might want to sit down for this next bit.
Joe Nocera penned a response for the NY Times yesterday. Yes, that paper.
While he freely admits that he wants Hachette to win (gotta admire him for his honesty) Nocera still takes time to demolish Foer’s arguments. What’s more, he ends his column with the single most succinct statement why Amazon is so hated in certain circles:
Let’s be honest here: The intelligentsia is focused on Amazon not because it sells pinto beans or toilets, but because it sells books. That’s their business. Amazon is changing the book industry in ways that threaten to diminish the role of publishers and traditional ways of publishing. Its battle with Hachette is a battle over control. It’s not terribly different from the forces that ultimately disintermediated the music business.
I’m not sure if that explains Streitfeld, but it does explain why a lot of the book world hates Amazon. That retailer is a threat to the status quo, and that scares many.
That fear has led to overstatements Amazon’s influence and market share, leading some to call Amazon a monopoly. Alas, as Vox explained on Friday, Amazon has far too much competition for that claim to pass muster:
In the sale of physical objects it faces fierce competition from the likes of Walmart (whose market capitalization is still worth about $100 billion more than Amazon’s), Target, Home Depot, Ikea, the Gap, and other major retail chains. In the sale of digital goods it faces fierce competition from Apple and Google. It is true that in some of these markets Amazon has a rather dominant market share. But having a lot of the market is not the same as having a monopoly. A monopoly needs to involve a lack of choice and some kind of barrier to entry. Everyone gets their e-books from Amazon because they’re just as cheap as Apple’s e-books, but they work on a much broader range of devices. But if Amazon started offering an inferior e-book product to Apple’s, then customers could and would switch.
Gee, I wonder where I have heard that before?
Well, I have pointed out related facts in the past, but also NY Magazine made a similar argument in their rebuttal to Foer’s piece. Yes, not one but two MSM publications are using facts to refute an ant-Amazon screed:
Moreover, Amazon faces fierce competition from traditional retailers, taking but a tiny slice of the $4.5 trillion overall retail pie. Amazon is about the same size as Target, sales-wise, and a little smaller than Kroger. All three get dwarfed by Walmart, which generated about half a trillion in revenue last year. And in strategic areas where Amazon has set its sights on growth — like same-day delivery and cloud computing — the company also faces fierce competition from well-funded rivals, as my colleague Kevin Roose has noted.
I don’t know about you, but I find the responses to the piece in The New Republic reassuring.
That was a particularly egregious offense against reason, making it the equivalent of low hanging fruit, so it was an easy target for rebuttal. But the fact that 3 different publications bothered to respond tells me that the anti-Amazon alliance is not nearly as strong outside of the book world as it is inside.
As I (and many others) have said before, most of the anti-Amazon coverage is merely preaching to the choir. The rest of the congregation is listening to someone else, and until Hachette and its media allies start getting the attention of said congregation the media campaign is not going to have nearly the impact that they think it does.
image by misko13